Monthly Archives: November 2013

Who was Earl Baker?

Earl Maynard Baker, the nephew of hotel tycoon T.B. Baker, ran two of the Baker hotels for most of his adult life.  He was General Manager of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio for over twenty years before he sold it almost at once when his uncle T.B. turned over the deed in the fifties.  Perhaps even more famously, for forty years he also managed (and later owned) the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells until his death in 1967.  During his tenure as owner, he unsuccessfully attempted to get rid of the Grand Old Lady on several occasions, and he famously followed through on his ultimatum to shut it down on his 70th birthday in 1963 if he didn’t find a buyer.  However, the hotel  did re-open again from 1965-1972, thanks to the efforts of a group of scrappy local businesspeople who wouldn’t let the landmark go – they paid Earl monthly rent to keep the doors open.

History has not been especially kind to Earl’s memory. Are some of the stories true?  Probably. But are some of them just rumors? Probably.  Based on research done so far, I’ll attempt to help separate the two:

Earl Baker & Two WomenDid Earl have a mistress named Virginia Brown who killed herself inside the Baker Hotel? It is not known whether a woman named Virginia Brown (or any mistress) existed at all, although the ghost hunter programs that routinely film inside the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells would certainly like you to think so.  According to some, the specter of Earl’s mistress Virginia still haunts her suite on the seventh floor, stopping to flirt with male visitors.  More than one person has mentioned smelling her perfume or sensing a playful spirit.  What is certain, however, is that no young woman ever killed herself inside the Baker hotel (and for the record, nobody ever jumped from the balcony to the pool, either.)  That said, what we do know is that Earl and his wife divorced at some point, and that he did not remarry.  There are enough rumors surrounding his character to make the mistress story believable, but it has not been confirmed.  And I certainly don’t have any information about who these two ladies might be with him in the picture above. Aside from the fact that there are two women sitting on his lap, that cheetah print fur is telling us quite a story of it’s own – am I right?   Edit to original post: The woman in cheetah fur has been identified as Mr. Baker’s wife, Gladys. 

Did Earl engage in court battles with his family? Yes. In the 1940s, Earl and his elderly aunt Myla (who I believe lived at the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells at the time) were engaged in a lengthy court battle in Texas over shares to the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio.   When T.B. had money to do so, he had always provided for his unmarried sister Myla, but it appears that something bitter and contentious happened between Earl and Myla later on.  The detailed court records of this case were recently discovered, in fact, and I look forward to updating you on what I find out.

Earl BakerDid Earl have a drinking problem? Sources seems to suggest – probably.  Several pictures and brochures found in his personal effects after he died suggest that he struggled with alcohol.  The picture to the left may have been taken inside an office in the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells.

Did Earl die at the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells?  Yes and no.  After Earl closed the hotel on his 70th birthday in 1963, unhappy local Mineral Wells businesspeople scraped together the funds to re-open the aging hotel, hoping to keep the tourism in town alive. Then, at some point in 1967, Earl came back to the hotel.  Some say that he had just come back for a quick visit, and others suggest that he might have begun living in the Baker Suite.   In any case, on December 3, 1967, Earl had a heart attack in the Baker Suite on the eleventh floor and subsequently died in the hospital in Mineral Wells.  Earl was 74 years old.

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“Fifteen Story Hotel to be Built at Austin”

On November 16, 1922, The San Antonio Evening News announced that T.B. Baker had completed negotiations to build what would become the Stephen F. Austin Hotel in downtown Austin, although the (now famous) location on Congress Avenue had not yet been selected.

It seems that the hotel was designed to have fifteen stories all along, but purposefully, only eleven of them were completed for the grand opening in 1924.  The original rooftop ballroom terrace (now gone) was intended to be temporary all along!  When the new owner added the additional floors in the mid-thirties, did they know  that they were completing Baker’s original vision for a 15 story hotel?

The article also mentions that one of Baker’s “new” ideas for the future hotel revolved around serving local Austinites: it would feature an unusually large lobby for the purpose of being used as an open meeting space for lawyers, UT students, and legislators.

Stephen F. Austin Planned

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A Poem for the Baker

The following poem and love letter to the Baker Hotel by W.S. Genaro originally appeared in the November 20, 1929 Grand Opening edition of the Mineral Wells Index

Special thanks to Sheri Glover for sending this my way!

——

Psychologists tell us our dreams will come true,
If we hold to a pattern and steadfastly do,
Those things that will tend towards making them real,
That is, catch the spirit—then act as we feel.

If you’ve tried this, you know that the theory is sound
And everywhere proof of its workings are found.
One wondrous example of which I might tell;
The Magnificent Mineral Wells Baker Hotel.

We pass through its portals—we’re awed—and we seem,
Not awake, but just having a wonderful dream!
O’er come by its splendor we’re under the spell
Of this dream house, the Mineral Wells Baker Hotel.

All the architect’s cunning and artisan’s skill,
Have been lavished upon it, and gaze where you will,
The picture is gorgeous and restful as well,
In the marvelous Mineral Wells Baker Hotel.

If we ponder a moment in truth we must find,
It was once but a picture in somebody’s mind;
Just a dream that’s come true—that worked out so well,
That its fruit is the Mineral Wells Baker Hotel.

All who visit our city for pleasure or health,
Are convinced that men of vision and wealth;
Have planned for their comfort and wonderfully well,
In building the Mineral Wells Baker Hotel.

We have reason for pride in our prospects today,
We who live in this haven of health, rest and play;
We believe in the future of Mineral Wells,
And are proud of the Baker and Crazy Hotels.

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